San Francisco vs. Osaka: Sister Cities Cut Ties Over U.S. Statue Symbolizing Japan's Wartime Use of Sex Slaves

The Japanese city of Osaka has ended its sister city relationship with San Francisco due to a heated dispute over a statue that commemorates the victims of sex slavery at the hands of Japanese military forces in the early 20th century.

Last year, the Californian city's previous mayor, the late Edwin Lee, had agreed to allow a "comfort women" statue to be erected in the Chinatown district with its depictions of women from China, Korea and the Philippines.

The statue's inscription stated that it "bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls, euphemistically called 'Comfort Women,' who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in thirteen Asian-Pacific countries from 1931-1945."

But after Lee's successor, Mayor London Breed, said the statue could stay, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura sent a 10-page letter of complaint revoking the sister city status that had been in place since 1957.

Artist Steven Whyte’s statue “Comfort Women,” depicting Japanese World War II era sex slaves, is displayed at St. Mary’s Square in San Francisco, on November 1, 2017. Osaka, Japan, has severed its sister status with the city in objection to the monument. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yoshimura said historians do not agree about how many "comfort women" there were and that the monument did not take into account all the women who have been sexually assaulted by soldiers from other countries.

He also said there was no consensus about "the degree to which the former Japanese Army was involved, and the extent of the wartime harm.

"Unfortunately, the engraved uncertain and one-side claims presented in the finalized inscription has led an acknowledgement of history astray into a political condemnation of Japan, causing disruptions among local communities of San Francisco," Yoshimura said.

"I am not on the side of any attempts to justify Japan's 'comfort women' issue in any sense, nor do I intend to do so in the future. Japan must express deep remorse and offer a sincere apology to former 'comfort women.'… However, trivializing the issue by singling out Japan will not lead to resolving it as a global issue."

Lillian Sing, co-chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition told The Guardian: "Breaking the relationship over a memorial is outrageous and absurd. It shows how afraid the Osaka mayor and Japanese prime minister are of truth and are trying to deny history."

There is also tension between South Korea and Japan after statues were erected on buses in Seoul in August 2017 to honor the former sex slaves. The Japanese and South Korean governments reached an agreement in 2015 that included an apology from Japan, although Tokyo never accepted legal responsibility for comfort women.

Japan also founded the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation worth $8.7 million to fund care for survivors. However South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, criticized the fund because it was not widely supported by South Koreans. In March, Moon described the enslavement of the women as a "crime against humanity."